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How To Improve Your Live Guitar Skills
By Tom Hess - 10/06/2015 - 09:37 AM EDT

Are you dissatisfied with your live playing skills and tired of being nervous every time you perform? Here is a little secret: these kinds of mistakes (and your fear of playing in live situations) can be improved upon with a specialized practice routine. Additionally, if you want to really improve your live playing skills, you must practice like the pros. Here’s how:

Dont Set Yourself Up For Failure
When you are practicing guitar for playing live, you absolutely have to adjust your expectations. If your goal is to “never make a mistake”, you are going to be disappointed every single time you perform. Learn more in this article about getting over stage fright. Mistakes happen to every performer (even the best!). The good news is that your audience most likely will not realize that any mistakes have occurred. However, this does NOT mean you should use this realization to justify sloppy live guitar playing. There are 3 different goals you need to have if you want to quickly improve your live guitar playing:

Objective 1: Dont Try To Be PerfectTry To Be Consistent
Performing is difficult for lots of guitarists because their live playing can be so unreliable. You need to try to eliminate this kind of inconsistent guitar playing. A guitar player who can play at 86% accuracy every night will make a much better live performer than one who is unreliable (one night they’re great, the next they’re terrible). Performing at a consistent level is the first thing you need to work towards.

Objective 2: Bridge Your Guitar Skill Level Gap
As a guitarist, you have 2 levels of your guitar playing that you are working on. First, is your ideal skill level. This is the level you measure when you are playing guitar under optimum conditions such as practicing in your bedroom. Second, is your live playing skill level. This is the level you measure when you are in a live situation. You need to bridge the gap between these 2 levels. You need to make it your lifelong goal to get your live playing skill level as close to your ideal skill level as possible, but realize that your live playing skill level will always be slightly behind your ideal skill level. This is normal, but you can still do a lot of things to get these 2 levels as close together as possible. The image below will help you visualize what I’m talking about.

Objective 3: Improve All Of Your Guitar Playing
Your live playing guitar skills will increase so much faster if you are working hard on increasing all of your guitar playing skills (start studying with a verified guitar teacher, one who can help you do this even faster). This may seem obvious at first, but there are 3 reasons why this relates specifically to your LIVE playing that you must understand:

  1. If you improve your overall guitar playing, you will immediately see an improvement in your live guitar technique. Learn more about this in my free course on how to build your guitar speed.

  2. Becoming a better overall guitarist will make you much more aware of the gap in your skill levels that I discussed earlier. This will make you want to practice your live playing even more (more on this below).

  3. While your live playing skill level will never surpass your ideal skill level, you still need to give yourself something to work towards. Set this higher standard for yourself by improving your maximum abilities through practicing guitar in an optimum environment.

So how do you actually practice guitar for live playing? There are 3 main steps.

Step 1: Simulate On-Stage Stress Situations
If you want to become a great live guitar player, you need to change your methods for learning to play new things on guitar. Start by taking the songs you are going to perform and practicing them under simulated stressful conditions. Do this by playing guitar:

  1. With bright lights in your eyes
  2. While moving around as you would in a performance
  3. While distracting yourself
  4. Around other people, including friends or family
  5. With new or unfamiliar equipment
  6. With a different amp tone (that is not ideal for you)
  7. Outside
  8. When your fingers are uncomfortably cold or hot
  9. With different guitar picks
  10. …and anything else you can think of! :)

Step 2: Turn Your Guitar Playing Mistakes Into Practice Exercises
Figure out which parts of the songs you are practicing get sloppy when you are simulating live playing using the above ideas. This is where your mistakes are most likely to occur. Write all of these problems down on paper. You now have a list of specific things to practice that will directly improve your live playing.

Step 3: Learn How To Be Uncomfortable
Now that you know where you’re likely to make a mistake when performing, start practicing these problem areas in the simulated conditions that give you the most trouble. Do this until everything on the list you created in Step 2 becomes easy and error-free. After practicing under simulated live playing conditions, you will start to notice drastic improvements in your live playing. While this process is not physically challenging, you will see how extremely effective it can be. This turns you into a much more confident live player (which ALSO helps you become a better performer). You will be able to implement this practice method way more effectively by creating a specific and effective guitar practice schedule.

Doing the things I’ve talked about in this article will make you a more confident performer who is a LOT more comfortable on stage. You will no longer be afraid of failing when performing and you will start playing guitar live at the level you have always wanted. All of these concepts will help you become a great musician and live performer.


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